The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done

Flaky_ape Are you smart and motivated and passionate, and have lots of cool things you’d like to get done, but somehow when it comes to doing them, you just . . . don’t?

Are you great at ideas but lousy at execution? Talk a good game but don’t get any results? Spend a lot of time thinking about where you want to go, but not much time actually moving your ass down the road that would take you there?

You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations. We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. However, that will never happen.

Most of us are creative and smart. We’re often very funny and really pretty charming. We get things quicker than a lot of people do.

What we lack is focus. Everything looks good to us. We want dinner in Paris and a dive trip to Fiji. Most of us care more about experiences than about stuff. But because we don’t take care of the “stuff” aspect of life, we don’t have the experiences we really want to have.

That, and we lack this “drive” thing. We have desire, but we don’t know how to engage drive. The wheels are turning, but the car ain’t going forward.

If you are a flake, you need to learn how to get things done. Getting things done (meeting goals, completing projects, all that irritating junk productive people do) will let you have better experiences.

We live in a world made of stuff, so it gets pretty painful when we blow stuff off. You actually can learn how to get things done. Here’s how.

What Do You Want Out of It?

You’re not going to get a damned thing done until you actually know what you want to get out of it.

I know this is making your eyes roll into the back of your head. You know all about this visualizing your goals business. You may have even forced yourself to write down exactly where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years, with all the little details that will make it real to you.

That’s a good thing to do, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something much more general. (Much flakier, in fact.)

Just know what you want to get out of the thing you’re thinking about doing.

Do you want to do it to make some money? OK, why do you want money? What does that get you?

Sit down with a pen and paper (or a keyboard if you must, but pen and paper do something interesting to your brain’s deep wiring) and answer the question: “What do I want out of this thing?”

You can describe a scenario, or visualize images, or focus on how you’ll feel or what the material facts will be. If you adopt too much of someone else’s formula, it won’t feel real to you. Just answer the question in a way that makes you say, “Oh, yeah. That’s it. That’s actually exactly it.”

Getting Real

Now it’s time for something that the self-helpers don’t usually talk about. I got this from Robert Fritz’s Path of Least Resistance and I have found it to absolutely rock. Fritz calls it the “Pivotal Technique,” which I think is an apt label. If you need to turn yourself around in a major way, this is how you can do it.

Step 1. Get nice and clear about what you want.

Step 2. Get completely, impeccably, bullshit-free clear about where you are now, with respect to that.

That’s it, just those two. Simple but not easy.

Put another way:

Understand exactly what you want. Understand exactly where you are. Notice the difference.

Please note that there is not a follow-up step called “beat yourself to a bloody stump about not being where you want to be.”

If you’re in New York and you want to go to San Francisco, how much good does it do to beat yourself up about what a lame-ass you are not to be in San Francisco? How far west does that actually move you?

Not one millimeter? Hmm, interesting.

Figuring Out What’s Next

All those annoying productivity people will tell you that the next step is to make a map that goes from here to there.

The map has all the steps you’ll need to take. Those steps are probably broken into sub-steps. Along the way, you’ll identify the resources you’ll need to develop and the avenues that are most likely to get you to your goal.

Get real. You are a flake. You are not going to do all that. In fact, just the thought makes you want to go grab an ice cream, doesn’t it?

And here’s another thing. You don’t know the whole map. You’ve probably never been to this place you want to go. So what makes you think you can map it out? You can’t.

The best you can do from where you are now is to get a sense of where “kinda-sorta the right direction” is.

Flakes are flaky because the map seems impossible. Productive people are productive because the map seems real. The flakes are actually right, but fat lot of good that does us. The productivity people follow their imaginary map, and because they’re doing something, they get somewhere.

But there’s a way out.

All you have to do is figure out what’s next. This comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which is a terrific system if you’re mentally ill enough to do all the ritual. (I am, and I love it, but most people aren’t.) But the ritual is mostly optional.

Just get an idea of what one action you should take next that will take you kinda sorta in the right direction.

If you’re going to San Francisco from New York, your next action might be “get on Mapquest to figure out what roads go west out of town.” Or it could be “call Greyhound and see what a ticket will cost me.” Or it might even be “wait until the sun goes down to see where west is.”

Those are all legit. They all set you up to start moving in the right direction.

Your brain might start blaring like a smoke alarm with 2,000 things you need to do next. You can’t do 2,000 things right now. Write down the things you think are at least somewhat important. Then pick just one to do next.

Allen is very smart about this. It has to be the single next thing to take action on. Not “get $900 for an airline ticket,” but “check Craigs List tomorrow morning for temp job” or “send mom a birthday card so I can hit her up for money next week.”

If you can’t do it in 20 minutes, it’s probably not the next action. Find the next action.

Do What You Feel Like

The flake’s superpower is that we are very good at doing what we feel like.

If you figure out your next action to take, and you don’t just get up and do it right away, do the Pivotal Technique again.

Understand what you want, and why you want it. Understand where you are now. Notice the difference.

Then do what you feel like.

Just keep cycling through that. As a flake, your unconscious is very good at protecting you from things you don’t want. If you don’t feel like moving kinda-sorta in the direction of your thing, there’s something about it you don’t want.

A great flake technique is to say something to yourself along the line of:

OK, unconscious mind, gigantic pain in the ass that you are, thanks for keeping me from doing something I don’t want to do. Could you do me one more favor and let me know what about it I don’t like? Thanks.

Ask yourself that question out loud before you go to bed. Maybe write it down on a piece of paper as well. Then forget about it and see what pops into your head the next day.

Once you can see what you don’t like, you’ll figure out a way around it. Flakes are excellent at figuring out ways around things.

Don’t Misplace Your Brilliant Insights

Because, as a flake, you’re more-than-average ruled by your unconscious mind, I can promise you will get useful answers to your questions. Your unconscious mind is actually a lot smarter than your conscious mind is. So you’ve got that going for you.

But, again because you’re a flake, you’ll probably lose track of those answers.

In fact, you’ve come up with terrific answers and lost them again many times already. It’s just how we flakes work.

So set up a flake-friendly way to keep everything. I call mine the compost pile. All the notes and ramblings and scribbles go in there, and eventually some of it composts into something I can use.

Flakes throughout history have used notebooks for this, and they’re not bad, but they’re hard to go back into. It might take hours to find that genius insight you had two years ago that will absolutely solve the nasty problem you’re facing right now.

So I like software. At the moment, I am addicted to the 37 Signals product Backpack. I keep blog post ideas, gardening plans, backups of eBooks I’ve bought, plans for world domination, etc. in there. On my Backpack home page are notes about the very next actions to take on various things I want to get done, and a few bullet points about what I want to focus on right now.

(I try not to focus on any more than four general areas at any one time, or everything immediately grinds to a halt. When I get ideas for projects outside my three or four focus points, I throw ‘em into the compost pile.)

The Plan in 7 Reasonably Painless Steps

  1. When you’ve got something to do, figure out what you really want to get out of it.
  2. Do the pivotal technique. Think about what you want, then get clear about where you are right this minute. Notice the difference.
  3. Figure out the next action.
  4. Do what you feel like.
  5. Rinse, lather, repeat.
  6. Start a compost pile for ideas, notes, plans and insights.
  7. Stick to three or four primary areas of focus.

That’s it. Fellow flakes, what kind of things are you trying to get done now? Making any progress? Let us know in the comments.

Related Reading

  • Rock Your Day. Dave Navarro is not a flake, but he has good ideas about getting past the mental blocks that keep us from being productive.
  • The Alternative Productivity Manifesto. Clay Collins’ take on whether we should be pursuing productivity in the first place, and how we might define that in a healthy way.

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Comments

  1. Dave Navarro says:

    Love it.

    Next actions FTW!

  2. Marie Rotter says:

    Great post! I like your point about, “What can you get done in the next 20 minutes?” I have a tendency to take on too much, then I get overwhelmed and chuck it all.

    For example, today I’d like to clean my house, write a blog post, update my online portfolio, and call a contact who’s offered to help find a book deal. Oh yeah, and I need to start on that book.

    Is this possible to do in the two hours my baby is napping? Absolutely not. That’s why I’m writing comments on a blog right now.

    I’ve learned that by breaking down big ideas into “today,” and making a commitment to actually do it has helped me improve my flakiness. For example, I set a goal this year to get in shape and lose weight. I set this goal every year but never make it. This year I decided I’m going to go to the gym just today. If I don’t make it today, I don’t beat myself up about it, and tomorrow I will wake up and say, “I’m going to the gym today.” So far, I’ve been averaging 2-3 times a week. It’s taken a while, but I’ve lost 15 pounds. The point is, it’s getting done.

  3. Lizthefair says:

    This is awesome and something I could probably really do. Now I just need to make sure I don’t lose the blog post…….

  4. Sonia Simone says:

    LOL, LizTF. We’ll always be here for you. :)

    Gee, Marie, that all sounds awfully familiar. “Just today” is a great bit of advice, too. Getting to the gym 2-3 times a week is fantastic, IMO.

  5. Casey says:

    I love this post beyond measure.
    signed,
    Flake Emeritus

  6. I am an expert at creative procrastination, rather than a flake. I can put things off by doing something I had previously put off.

    Great article!

  7. Lynn Crymble says:

    Hello, my name is Lynn and I am a FLAKE!
    It has been over a month since I last posted to my blog and I need help.
    Sonia, you are now my “honorary” sponsor and I am hopeful that I can put your advice to good use.

    I do feel that a big part of being a flake is fear and uncertainty and that maintaining the status quo means we don’t have to face it.

    Would you agree that some degree of perfectionism exists in all flakes and we are afraid to fail or not excel in what we want and where we want to go so we sub-consciously resist doing it?

  8. Oh god, I’ve finally figured out my problem. I’m a flake. So nice to know that I’m not alone in my desperate flakiness :)

    Seriously, this is a nice post. I’m attached to your two-pronged bullshit-free approach of figuring out what I want, and where I am on the pursuit of it. That removes much of my flaky hemming and hawing.

    Thanks!

  9. Evan says:

    Great post. Although I incline to being the productivity type this often doesn’t work in uncertain and changing environments (like the blogospere). In these situations we productivity types have much to learn from flakes and their flakiness.

  10. Carole says:

    I love, love, LOVE this post! I’ll probably keep it open in a tab (my version of the compost pile, and hell on browser performance!) for however long it takes me to get it locked into my flaky brain.

    But at least I know I’m not alone!

    @Lynn I can’t speak for Sonia or for all other flakes, but I can tell you that perfectionism is a huge part of MY problem. If I don’t have time to tackle something the way I feel it ought to be done, I just won’t even start.

  11. Ian says:

    Thanks for this.
    I’m a flake, now I know. I am not alone.
    Ian

  12. Sonia Simone says:

    You are all very lovely flakes. I think flakes are terrific. Flakes and dorks. I’m going to start a club. :)

    @Lynn, yeah, for me perfectionism is a serious issue. I can spend alarming amounts of time on research or other pre-action aspects of getting something done.

    Hm, I should delve into that in another post. I’ll throw that into the compost pile. ;)

  13. Judy Dunn says:

    I think flakeism exists because thinking up all those ideas is just so darned much fun.

    Implementing them? Not so much.

    I am going to save this post because when I feel less flaky, I’ll need it. Thanks, Sonia.

  14. Another good recommended read along these lines is One Small Step Can Change Your Life; The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, PhD.

    As always, Sonia, I love to read what you write. Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. ROFLOL!!! This is fabulous. I had to make a hybrid system to satisfy my left and right brains. I make the map. It seems I have to set the compass,THE MISSION, so I can turn it over to right brain to get us there.

    Like that editorial calendar.. it’s kind of sort of working, but only if I use it loosely.

    NEXT ACTION my favorite words in this arena of productivity. Yay Dave and yay Sonia for being a brilliant flake.

  16. This is perfect. I have this left brained/right brained problem.

    Next Step. Next Action. Next New Idea (because I see something else). The new idea is the problem.

    Talk about a nice way to start getting yourself together.

    I stopped trying to manage time. It is impossible. I found I can only manage tasks and promises.

    Great post. It is so easy to get interested in “everything” and get nothing done.

    Thanks for the not so gentle nudge this morning.

  17. Great post Sonia. Count me in for the flakes club. Maybe we could organise a first club meeting by about… oh maybe 2017…?

    Gary

  18. Glen says:

    I’m so happy to know there’s a whole community of flakes out there just like me!
    I tried GTD, got my office in order, and then gave up within a week because once things were in files I forgot about them (did not matter that the file was labeled “Action”) and only worked on what I actually wanted to. True flakiness.

  19. KatFrench says:

    **Raising hand** I am a complete flake, and I love this post.

    Hey, in addition to some of the more pared-down flavors of GTD, I’ve found David Reynold’s stuff on Constructive Living to be IMMENSELY helpful in dealing with mah flakiness.

    :)

  20. Sonia Simone says:

    Oh, very cool Kat, I will put David Reynolds on my Amazon list pronto. Phyllis, I’m ordering the Maurer as well, thank you!

    @Gary, great idea, I’ll put it on the compost pile. :)

  21. Steve says:

    My name is Steve and I am a flake.

    I absolutely loved this article. Best thing is that it’s not preachy. The line about eyes rolling was spot on – I was in the process of a roll as I read it.

    Of all the GTD and self-help stuff I’ve read on the web – and believe me, I’ve read a lot – this post is easily the best and most inspiring.

  22. Leanne says:

    Wow, so it turns out I’m a flake – damn!
    I’ve been using those Perfectionist and Procrastinator IDs so proudly for so long – but I’m actually a flake – #@*$ – sorry, really bad word came out.
    So, having read this post, which I was led to by another blog, which was mentioned in an article I was reading, that was referred to in an email…hang on, what were we talking about?
    Can’t remember – guess I’ll just go and have lunch, and I’ll get back to what I was doing later…

  23. I am so happy that I found your blog, Sonia! Every post has a concept that really hits me between the eyes (in a good way) and this post is no exception. I read this: “You don’t know the whole map. You’ve probably never been to this place you want to go.” and realized what a flake I am! I’m constantly going someplace I’ve never been before and now I know why I never knew how to get there :-) Thanks!

  24. Steve says:

    I am so glad to finally be able to put a name to my affliction.

    Flake.

    So fitting, so perfect, so…just so.

  25. Daniel says:

    clever and fun. I’m glad I found this post. Thanks…

    Daniels last blog post..Discount running shoes. Are they safe?

  26. Lisa says:

    The path that took me to this post was a good diversion………..
    Yes I can admit it….. I too am a FLAKE!

    Thanks it make a lot of sense.

  27. Sonia Simone says:

    Lisa, we flakes will unite and rule the world! Um, as soon as we lose 10 pounds. And start that MBA program. And get a good system to control some of the chaos on our desks. And cars. And closets. And garages.

    Er, . . .

  28. J.D. Meier says:

    Beautiful, punchy post!

    One thing I just don’t see enough of at work is teaming up. The right kind of teaming. If you’re a starter, pair with a finisher. If you’re an engineer, pair with a marketer, if you’re a simplifier, pair with a maximizer.

    The other issue is the brutal reality that seeing a project through from cradle to grave is tough — lots of resistance along the way. The worst enemy is time. The longer an idea stretches over time, the easier it is to … oh! shiny, new thing! …

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Social Loafing

  29. eddiespec says:

    This would have been a really nice guide to help flakes, except for one fatal flaw: you never address WHY we lack drive. That is the absolute most important question the flake has to have an answer for. Why is it that we don’t engage and do when we know we have to? Why, sometimes, do we remain in neutral even when it threatens to destroy our lives?

    Until you can figure that out, all your advice is time and thought down the drain for the flake.

  30. OMG, this is so my life. Total flake right here. Thanks for this – I’m going to print it out, underline all the relevant bits (all of it really) feel all inspired, then do nothing.

  31. Nicole says:

    Thank you. I’ve finally found a place where there are others like me! I don’t feel so alone. Yay!

    This is a wonderful post. As I was reading I immediately began the exercises. You have completed your mission, got a flake to act, or at least begin to act. I will let you know when I complete my goal.

    I flake because I can. And I love that freedom.

    Nicole

  32. Sonia Simone says:

    Nicole, I love “I flake because I can”!

  33. Nicole says:

    Thank you…
    p. s. I am sharing your site with my fellow flakes. :)

  34. Sonia Simone says:

    Flakes unite! Or untie! Or something!

  35. Grace says:

    Absolutely perfect! You had to be writing with (this) flake in mind. :-)

    I’ve also found another book to be helpful: Organizing for the creative person, by Dorothy Lehmkuhl.

    But, finally, what helps for me is to build on my strengths, and acknowledge my growing edges.

    G.

  36. JuleS says:

    2. Do the pivotal technique. Think about what you want, then get clear about where you are right this minute. NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE.

    What difference; where? Between what you want and getting clear about where you are, or ???? what?

  37. I am highly frustrated now as I was JUST writing a post on the exact same thing but this is written quite well, it’s going to be a challenge!

    Best bit of it for me: noticing the difference and asking yourself questions.

    FLAKES UNITE!!! :-D

    Paradise @ lastminuteacademics last blog post..Jerk Mentality?

  38. M.C.O. says:

    It’s like you looked into my eyes and saw my soul. I’m so grateful for this post. I’m all-of-a-sudden understanding myself so much better.

  39. Am I a flake? Yes, sometimes I lack focus. But I have gotten a lot done over the years, while maintaining a huge load of responsibility on my shoulders. Last year I trained for a triathlon at the beginning of the year and raised $3000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I want to repeat the experience. But last night I was tormented by anxiety dreams about training. I am a professional musician and writer, not an athlete. The triathlon is for fun, and stress relief, and charity. Is it the right thing to do? Or is it a flaky thing to do given the dire state of my finances (mine and those of most other self-employed folks I know)? Or is it “acting in abundance” as one friend put it? My husband says do it, my brother says don’t. Confusion reigns. Was my dream trying to warn me off?

    Awesome post, though. Already a fan of GTD. Thank you.

  40. samegirl says:

    OMG I laughed so hard at this post because it is 100% me! One question, how did you manage to get around to writing the post on flakiness? I probably would have had the idea bouncing around in my head but would have never gotten around to writing the post. Yeah I know, total flake! LOL

  41. Tony says:

    I was google searching for something completely different and this post came up and I was irresitibly drawn to it. Voila! At last!! Man, I am sick of all these ‘go-getta’ friends of mine giving me grief about how clever and creative I am, but I need to be more’proactive’ and not to ‘procrastinate’, etc , etc. This made me want to scream and run for the hills. Now, some GREAT advice about how to deliver on my talents. And yes, we Flakes ARE very creative, and see beyond the ‘stuff’. This is quite proabbaly the most important bit of anything I have ever come across on the goddam interweb. Brilliant. Now, what can I do in the next 20 mins?

  42. Sarah says:

    omg what a great post

  43. Scott says:

    Excellent post – you had me cracking up as I recognized myself immediately. I’ll try these suggestions and appreciate the help! :-)

    Scotts last blog post..Beer Review – Kitachino Lacto Sweet Stout

  44. Sonia Simone says:

    This post is like the flake coffeeshop. I love it. :)

  45. Kaushik says:

    I started reading this thinking, “oh god, here’s another productivity expert who’ll drive more angst into already insane people.” I was pleasantly surprised! I say throw away your GTD lists and organizers; be real, you’re not going to do any of it for long. Be here, be now, be present, and allow passion to arise.

    Kaushiks last blog post..The Second Obstacle – The Search

  46. Sandra says:

    Nothing new under the sun – except that you said it so I got it – I am now embracing my flakiness!

    Sandras last blog post..18 Reasons I love Google Docs

  47. Oh my goodness, I am not alone ! there are more of us flakes about!!
    For years now my lovely other half has been quoting the term “FLAKE” ,”FLAKEY” to me. Everyime a new idea or venture pops into my head those immortal words are fired back, usually accompanied by a snigger!!!
    My note books of pure scribble, money making ideas, new careers , diet fads are all compiled around me, stored in every crevice in the house!
    Your article, that I have somehow stumbled on has finaly made me realise that I am a true flake!, its not made up, and there is actually a name for my condition!!!
    My chap will be pleased to know that he was right all along.
    I loved your article, so i am sending many many thanks to you for making everything fit into place…
    I am a true flake….and bloody proud of it!!!!!!

  48. Erin Freeman says:

    I stumbled upon this article thanks to someone posting a related link on twitter, I think I ended up following a handful of links from that tweet but one way or the other I got here and I’m glad I did!

    In response to the question about perfection, I’ve believed forever that I was just a really lazy perfectionist.. I want things done absolutely perfectly else there’s little to no point in doing them, right? Now I know I’m a flake and I know how to take control of my flakiness :)

    Just think of all those ideas and moments of inspiration that have led to nothing.. it’s terrifying!!! right, where’s my scribbling pad gotten to?

  49. train horn says:

    Very very very interesting post. I first knew I was a Flakey person when I stumbled a post in http://www.seodiva.net/. lolz. Be back for more flakey post. :D

  50. Cori says:

    Excellent post! lol..I am totally a flake, thanks for clearing it up for me. :)
    Regards,
    Cori

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  24. [...] @MosesSiregar. ______________________________________________________________________________ The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done, also from Sonia Simone. A funny, self-help flavored piece: “You, my friend, are a flake. [...]

  25. [...] "Remarkable Communication" by Sonia Simone is the place to go for "people who hate marketing." Sonia Simone is a founding member of Third Tribe Marketing and senior editor at Copyblogger. Simone's blog covers a broad spectrum of marketing strategies for writers from email marketing to selling techniques. Comic, straightforward and actionable advice. Sign up for her free, email courses, "Email and Declare Marketing" and "Marketing Tool Kit." Simone also offers up the free newsletter, "Internet Marketing for Smart People," through Copyblogger. Don't miss her blog post, "The Complete Flake's Guide to Getting Things Done." [...]

  26. [...] “Remarkable Communication” by Sonia Simone is the place to go for “people who hate marketing.” Sonia Simone is a founding member of Third Tribe Marketing and senior editor at Copyblogger. Simone’s blog covers a substantial spectrum of marketing strategies for writers from email marketing to selling techniques. Funny, straightforward and actionable advice. Sign up for her free, email courses, “Email and Boom Marketing” and “Marketing Tool Kit.” Simone also offers up the free newsletter, “Internet Marketing for Smart People,” through Copyblogger. Don’t miss her blog post, “The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done.” [...]

  27. [...] Not to mention brought a lot of fellow flake heads out into the open, which made me feel uber good.The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things DoneA Post On Someone Else’s Blog I Wish I’d WrittenOK, this post kicked ass in my less than [...]

  28. [...] Simone – for bringing the Remarkables to life, for showing all of us that being a flake doesn’t have to stop you from showing your awesomeness, and for being a generally fabulous [...]

  29. [...] Sonia Simone, Remarkable Communication, the post that inspired LaVonne’s business name [...]

  30. The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done…

    Sadly…I relate to this: Excerpt You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations. We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. However, that will never happen… Thankfully, she….

  31. [...] whose personalities are incompatible with yours (maybe they’re flakes and you’re a stickler for detail, or vice [...]

  32. [...] the Author: Sonia Simone is CMO of Copyblogger Media and founder of Remarkable Communication. Share your brushes with greatness with her on twitter. [...]

  33. [...] catalyst was this terrific blog by Sonia Simone called The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done. Clearly, she speaks my [...]

  34. [...] child for this lesson: Sonia Simone calls herself a complete flake. Yet she’s the senior editor of Copyblogger, runs her own membership site and a whole [...]

  35. [...] the Author: Sonia Simone is CMO of Copyblogger Media and founder of Remarkable Communication. Share your 140-character hero’s journey with her on twitter. [...]

  36. [...] The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done by Sonia Simone at Remarkable [...]